Both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have written to the government to ask if ministers knew before this month that VW was fixing emissions tests. Greenpeace has also published new data revealing the extent of the car lobby’s power in Brussels.
Greenpeace has written to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Environment Secretary Liz Truss, posing four questions:
– Did the government know before this month about the existence of so-called ‘defeat devices’?
– If it did, what did it do to combat efforts by car manufacturers to fix emissions tests?
– If the government was aware of the existence of ‘defeat devices’, did it discuss the issue with manufacturers of diesel cars? If so, how many meetings took place, who attended and what was the outcome?
– What action did the government take to investigate the reported discrepancies between NOx measurements registered in testing, and so-called ‘on the road’ performance, in which NOx emissions were substantially higher?
Greenpeace has also today published figures showing the extent of lobbying in Brussels by manufacturers of so-called low-emission diesel cars.
Publicly available industry data shows that in 2014, manufacturers of diesel vehicles built to comply with the European Union’s new emissions standards, known as Euro 6, spent up to €18.5 million lobbying the EU and employed 184 lobbyists. This included 51 lobbyists who were granted passes giving them access to European Parliament premises.
Volkswagen alone employed 43 lobbyists and spent €3.3 million lobbying in Brussels, making it one of the biggest spenders on lobbying in the EU. The figures, drawn from the EU’s voluntary transparency register, are likely to be a conservative estimate of actual lobbying spend as they are provided by the companies themselves and are not independently reviewed.
In a written answer to a German parliamentary question, the transport ministry in Berlin said on July 28 that both the German government and the European Commission were aware of “defeat devices” – the industry name for the software that allowed VW to cheat emissions tests. In its answer, the ministry wrote that it shared “the view of the European Commission that there is no extensively proven means of preventing defeat devices.”
Greenpeace activists also turned up today outside the VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the company’s board is meeting. They displayed a banner with the slogan: ‘No more lies!’.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK executive director, said: “As evidence emerges that the German government and the European Commission knew about the test-cheating software, people will be wondering why it took the Americans to expose it. The extent of the car makers’ lobbying power could provide some clues to the answer
“This scandal is not about a slide in a company’s share price, it’s about heart attacks, lung disease and loss of life. Air pollution has for too long been the great neglected environmental emergency.
“The UK government has been caught lobbying on behalf of polluters from the transport and power sectors before. It’s time for our ministers to be completely transparent on what they knew and when about the pollution fix scandal. Many people will want to know which matters more to our government – the polluters’ profits or the health of their citizens.”
In a similar move Friends of the Earth Chief Executive Craig Bennett has written to the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin. In his letter he says: “VW’s cheating of US emissions regulations will have led to many premature deaths as a result of the air pollution the additional emissions will have caused.
“If the same proves the case here, and manufacturers have been cheating regulators, then some of the UK’s annual 52,000 premature deaths as a result of air pollution will be attributable to their deception.
“We are particularly concerned at suggestions that governments may have known for some time about attempts to cheat the regulators and we would like you urgently to confirm how much was known by your department and when.
“And while we welcome your commitment to an investigation, this must be ruthlessly independent, wide-ranging, immediate, well-resourced and only the start of a programme of urgent action.
“Air pollution in the UK is second only to smoking as a cause of premature death, and kills more people than alcohol and more than obesity. It also hits the most vulnerable and disadvantaged hardest.
“The UK has a woeful record. 37 of the UK’s 43 Air Quality Zones are still failing pollution limits set by Europe to protect health, even after the final compliance date expired this year, and your government has recently been ordered by the UK Supreme Court to produce new plans to tackle the problem in the shortest possible time. Diesel is a major contributor.
“On behalf of the tens of thousands of people whose lives are shattered by losing loved ones to air pollution, the many, many more whose lives are blighted by ill health due to breathing poor air, and the millions of motorists who have been deceived about how clean their vehicles are, Friends of the Earth urges you to:
– Ensure the UK inquiry is wholly independent, wide-ranging, and immediate so that key information feeds into the new Air Quality plans the government has to produce by the end of the year following the Supreme Court ruling.
– Accelerate the development of the framework for a network of Clean Air Zones, and develop plans to phase out diesel by the earliest feasible date, starting with an immediate ban of the worst-polluting vehicles in the most polluted places.
– In the meantime, launch a scrappage scheme to encourage motorists to get rid of diesel vehicles, remove the current road tax incentive for diesel over petrol, and offer better incentives for vehicles which are both low air polluting and low carbon.
“Our strong view is that diesel sells UK motorists a fundamental lie. VW’s cheating exposes the fact that as a technology it is simply not capable of delivering fuel efficiency and performance while reducing CO2 emissions and doing what is required to tackle air pollution.
“As well as cleaner vehicles, to square this circle, the UK urgently needs a transport strategy that cuts air pollution dramatically by reducing traffic levels and congestion. It’s time to take the car keys away from motor manufacturers, regulate their emissions tightly and effectively, and aim for a revolution to end diesel use. We must work towards a vision where every possible journey is taken safely on a bike or on foot, and in which there is clean, affordable public transport for longer journeys.”